Two to Tango

Argentine Tango Performance from the World Dance Festival in Burnaby, BC

Two Argentine Tangoers: my dance teachers, Daniela and Diego.

Even before I got into dancing, I had wondered about the expression “It takes two to tango.”

Why not “It takes two to salsa” (or bachata, Viennese waltz, cha cha, etc.)?

Was “tango” meant to stand for partner dances in general?

Wikipedia says that the idiom comes from the fact that “[t]he tango is a dance which requires two partners moving in relation to each other, sometimes in tandem, sometimes in opposition,” and it is a “situation in which the two partners are … understood to be essential.”

I don’t buy that explanation, because I feel like the same can be said of many partner dances. So, I’m coming up with an explanation of my own:

The proper Argentine tango position (according to my dance teacher) involves the partners leaning their chests forward against one another so much that their bodies form an upside down V starting from their pressed chests. This means that the dance partners would topple over if they tried to dance the Argentine tango by themselves. It takes two to tango because (Argentine) tango dancers literally hold each other up.

Argentine Tango dancers

In the Argentine Tango, the girl has to lean forward so much that she ends up looking like she is sticking out her butt for much of the dance.

I am currently taking the Beginner Argentine tango course at World Dance Co. for the second time around (while concurrently taking the advanced tango classes). I am trying to focus on incorporating the lean into all the moves this time around. It’s like learning a completely different dance, because the lean changes all of the movements, and puts you really off-balance.

It’s pretty frustrating sometimes. :/ Apparently, you don’t have to lean as much if you have a big chest or are dancing with a really wide person, because your bodies are already connected. Unfortunately, the guys in my class are stick thin, and I have no chest to speak of. 😛 It doesn’t help that none of the men lean their chests forward at all, which means that I have to lean extra to compensate.

The Argentine tango is by the far the hardest dance I am learning right now (although I suspect that the new Pachenga class that will be starting in two weeks will be even more difficult). Both partners really have to know what they are doing, and the lead must know how to use his chest and body effectively to communicate what he wants the follower to do.

The more I retake classes, the crappier a dancer I feel, as I continuously discover new details to hone and fix. The first round of lessons, you feel good just being able to remember the steps. It’s when you go through the lessons again that you really begin to feel what makes the dance a “tango,” a “bachata,” etc., and the bar is raised.

To me, successfully memorizing and being able to execute a bunch of steps does not make one a “dancer” — it’s about being able to exude the meaning of the music through your movements. I have not even begun to touch that.

I kind of wish I had a good partner I could dance with for an entire class or course so I wouldn’t have to keep on rotating and practicing with different partners. When I first started dancing, I thought that rotating partners was always the best way to go (since they can help you fix your mistakes), but now I am coming to resent “slow” partners. It is bloody frustrating to have a partner massacre a step during lessons, because we usually only get one shot with one partner to review a move. If a guy doesn’t do his part right, it means that I lost my chance to practice, and then I have to wait a full week to get another chance to attempt a move correctly. :/ Finding a good partner would mean being able to skip the duds.

A good dancer cartoon

Finding a great lead is hard!

Unfortunately, sometimes I am the dud. :/ So I think I will be stuck doing the rounds for a very long time. :S

It takes two to tango, and great dancing can only come when both partners hold up their share of the weight.


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